You may have noticed a pattern with us lately: we’re big on the “discounts and budget travel” blog posts right now. We’ve talked about the best budget-friendly family attractions in Europe this summer, the best ways to take advantage of the current US dollar/euro exchange rate, and our tips for recent graduates and youth travelers looking to take a big trip across Europe.
Next up: free summer festivities! Europe has no shortage of free festivals, holiday celebrations, sports events, and more during the summertime, and we’re here to give you tips for fitting these events into a train travel itinerary.
Here are a few free things to do in Europe in July and August, plus some free events & budget travel tips you can use all summer long.
Starts July 20
Paris finally figured out the one thing it doesn’t have: a beach. And then Paris promptly solved that problem: Paris Plages. Every summer since 2002, “Paris Plages” has taken place in July — the banks of the Seine are transformed into a long stretch of beach, including actual sand, beach chairs, umbrellas, and even palm trees! It’s the perfect coastal escape for those who can’t actually make it out of the city to the coast.
Getting to this event: The Plages stretch for about 3.5km along the Seine, but one of the main hubs is right near Hotel de Ville (City Hall), off Lines 1 and 11 of the Paris Metro. If you plan to take the metro often during your stay in Paris, you might want to consider a Paris Visite Card.
Tour de France
Starts July 1
This famous race needs no introduction. The race begins on July 4 in Dusseldorf and ends July 23 in Paris. You can take a train from Paris to any number of stops along the way, from Rennes to Le Havre, and beyond! Tip: If there’s a stop along the way that you absolutely cannot miss, book your train ticket in advance! It gets very busy and it’s possible for the trains to sell out.
Montreux & Umbria Jazz Festivals
Europe in the summer is basically heaven for lovers of jazz, and two of the biggest jazz festivals are Montreux Jazz Festival from June 30 – July 15 and Umbria Jazz Festival from July 7-16 in the region’s capital city, Perugia. Plus, the Montreux Jazz Festival takes place right on the shore of Lake Geneva, meaning it probably has the best backdrop of any jazz festival in Europe.
Montreux by train: Montreux is easily accessible by train from Lausanne (20 minutes), Geneva (1 hour), Lucerne as part of the scenic GoldenPass train route, and more.
Perugia/Umbria by train: Perugia is easily accessible from many other major Italian cities, including Florence (about 2.5 hours), Rome (2.5 hours) and more.
Finland Wife-Carrying World Championships
June 30 – July 1
So here’s a thing that actually exists: the annual Wife-Carrying Competition in Finland. Each contestant must carry a woman (doesn’t actually need to be his wife) through an obstacle course (including a water obstacle at one point) in order to win. As if this weren’t ridiculous enough – the winner gets the weight of his wife in beer. Just your typical summer in Finland, I guess?
Reach this event by train: This event is held in Sonkajärvi, Finland each year. From Helsinki, you can take a 5 hour train ride to Kuopio, the nearest town. Or maybe you can ask one of the contestants to carry you.
This is one of the most well-known events in Europe during the summertime — and probably the most well-known food fight in the whole world. Thousands of people gather in the small town of Bunol near Valencia, Spain, to engage in a tomato-throwing fight that has been a tradition since the mid 1900s.
Valencia by train: Valencia is easily accessible by train from many major Spanish cities (2 hours from Madrid, about 4 hours from Sevilla, etc). Valencia has a few different train stations, so make sure to check your ticket before heading out to catch your train.
Siena Horse Race
August 16 (also July 2)
This race, the Palio de Siena, is one of the world’s oldest recorded competitive events. The racing arena (Piazza del Campo) in the center of Siena is the town’s main attraction even when it isn’t a racing day. The history of the race is very tied to the town’s religious history, and in fact the two racing dates correspond with important religious feast days.
Siena by train: Siena is easily accessible by Trenitalia trains from Florence (1.5 hours), Rome (3-3.5 hours), and more.
Rhine in Flames
Jul 1, Aug 12, Sep 9, Sep 16
On a few Saturdays between July and September, you can head towards one of the many quaint German towns along the Rhine River to enjoy a magnificent fireworks display. And this isn’t just a fireworks display — it’s also a procession of lighted boats and a festive celebration of lights in each small town along the procession route. Sounds good to us!
All Summer Long
Museum Free Days
Just in case you need to escape the heat for an afternoon or two! Some of Europe’s most renowned museums have free days and/or hours throughout the month:
- Louvre: Free on the 1st Sunday of the month
- Museo Nacional Centro (Madrid): Free on Saturdays after 2:30pm
- London museums: Many famous London museums are free everyday!
- Prague Castle: Not exactly a museum, but hey, close enough. While it does cost money to enter the castle and climb to the top, you don’t have to pay to take a stroll through the beautiful castle grounds.
- Swiss Travel Pass bonus: With your Swiss Travel Pass, you get free entry in over 480 museums in Switzerland. We dare you to try to see all of them.
It would be foolish to list free summer activities in Europe without mentioning all of the beautiful lakes you can visit. Particularly notable are the beaches of Croatia (Split is one of the most popular stops for visitors) and Lake Bled or Plitvice Lakes in Slovenia — both absolutely stunning natural landscapes. Just make sure to leave them as clean as you found them!
Getting to Split by train: Split is about 5.5 hours from Zagreb by train, and there are both day trains and overnight trains. You can look for train fares on our website.
Getting to Lake Bled by train: Lesce Bled is the closest train station; it’s about 4km from the center of Bled, the town near the lake.
Getting to Plitvice Lakes by train: The closest rail station to Plitvice Lakes National Park is Vrhovi-Plitvi Jezera; however, you could also take a train to Zagreb, where you would connect to a bus that would take you directly to the entrance of the park.
This goes along with lakes. Many beaches in Europe are free to enter and enjoy, and the views are stunning to boot. We wrote a guide about some of our favorite beaches in Europe a bit ago, covering everything from the beaches of Spain to the coast of Bulgaria. To add to that list, we’d also include this lesser-known gem:
The Algarve Coast (Portugal): A great starting off point for this region is the small coastal town of Faro — just about 2 hours by train from Lisbon. Beaches, Moorish ruins, live music and dancing at night, small fishing coves — this beautiful stretch of coastline has something for everyone.
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